Tonight Edmonton took another bold step toward becoming a city that embraces winter rather than one that simply endures it. Dozens of Edmontonians filled City Hall for the WinterCity Strategy Kick-Off Party which featured a keynote address from John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee. His remarks were passionate and inspirational and left me feeling absolutely pumped about playing even a small role in helping to tackle the challenge before us.
As part of a move to encourage citizens to embrace and engage in winter, the City of Edmonton is leading the development of a new WinterCity Strategy to highlight Edmonton as a leading winter city.
This strategy is about changing how many of us feel about winter – from enduring to embracing it.
When John took his turn at the podium this evening, he did so wearing an Oilers jersey and joked that he hoped it would keep him safe if we didn’t like what he had to say. He started by recounting his experience of arriving in Canada from Ireland. He came to Edmonton and after being told to “help make Canada a better place” by the customs official became a nation builder, even if he didn’t realize it at the time. “I felt like they’d send me back if I didn’t do my part!”
For most of his speech, John took us through the ups and downs of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Building the team, preparing for the event, pulling it off, etc. He shared many stories, everything from being interviewed for the job to watching Crosby score the game winning goal in overtime. One of my favorites was about the snow, or lack of snow, when the games began. Based on the last 100 years of history, there had to be snow in January. But there wasn’t any. “It was as if God was looking down on us saying ‘anyone can pull off the Winter Olympics with snow, you have to do it without snow!’” John told us. They eventually trucked snow in from Manning Park, which put up a banner that read “Official Snow Supplier” for the games. Feeling that the task was impossible, John was at the park every day, encouraging the team to keep going. He called in the Premier, the Prime Minister, and others to help encourage the team. One day, the guy in charge of the site finally spoke up and said “John, stop coming here every day. We’re not going to fail.” The lesson was one John cited many times throughout his remarks this evening – you need to trust people.
Another story I quite enjoyed was about transportation during the games. Enabling people to get around the city safely and efficiently was a tall order, and John and his team realized that to do it, there would have to be less cars on the road. So they asked Vancouverites to find alternative modes of transport, to leave their cars at home. Unsurprisingly, people laughed at the idea. They mocked it. The team was looking for a reduction in traffic of 25% and nobody thought it was possible. To prepare, they held single day trials a few weeks in advance of the games. The results were discouraging – traffic volumes dropped just 1 or 2 percent. But on the day the games opened, the reduction was 37%, well above targets. “We asked people nicely,” John said, “and I think they realized this was their way to play a role in making the games a success.”
Here are a few of the things he said that really stood out for me:
- “To be a champion, you have to have belief.”
- “Visions can’t be about stuff, they must be about people. About humanity.”
- “The legacy you want to leave behind is the human one.”
As motivational as John’s remarks were tonight, I’ll admit that applying the lessons of Vancouver 2010 to the City of Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy seems incredibly daunting. Someone in the audience was brave enough to ask John that very question – “how do we do that here?” He said we need two things: strong belief in the vision, and strong leadership.
Councillor Henderson has taken the lead on the WinterCity Strategy, and tomorrow morning will be sharing the results of his trip to Finland and Norway to identify best practices of winter cities. He’ll be joined by a committee of community leaders at the first symposium to explore the question, “what would make you fall in love with winter in Edmonton?” In his remarks tonight, Councillor Henderson said that “at some point, Edmonton sort of fell out of love with winter.” It’s time to get that back.
I’ll be in and out of the symposium tomorrow, and I look forward to participating in future public involvement events related to the WinterCity Strategy as well. The goal is to draft the strategy this spring, with Council reviewing and hopefully approving in the fall. The timeline is relatively short, so don’t wait to get involved. The easiest way is to participate in the WinterCity IdeaScale site. There you can submit ideas and vote and comment on ideas from others.
Here’s my first bit of feedback to the team leading the WinterCity Strategy: get rid of all mentions of turning Edmonton into “a leading winter city” or making Edmonton “one of the best winter cities in the world.” Recognition is a by-product of doing something well, not the target we should be aiming for. Instead, let’s focus on making Edmonton a great winter city for Edmontonians. On embracing winter rather than enduring it. As John said tonight, “you almost always get the reward you deserve.” If we can succeed at making Edmonton a more winter-friendly city for the people who live here, global recognition will come.
Let’s embrace winter in Edmonton! You can learn more about the WinterCity Strategy here.